We are the robots

// 18 July 2008

Kate Bornstein has posted quite an imaginative take on the genders of the two robots in the animated movie WALL•E. She considers it from the point of view of being: ‘[…] a feature length cartoon about a pair of lesbian robots who fall madly in love with each other’.

The gist of her argument is that, if we consider the characters as Butch and Femme instead of male and female, then they can be assigned any gender. So they could be a lesbian couple, or a gay couple: as Kate says: "You’re the audience. You get to decide.".

Pixar and Disney made a great many anatomical choices when they designed EVE and WALL•E to be as close to human as they can possibly be and still be robots. They didn’t give us one single anatomical clue to the gender of these cute li’l robots, but they knew we’d see WALL•E as boy and EVE as girl.

Kate thinks that this isn’t the first time that Disney has used gender variant characters.

Mu-Lan is a film about a female to male cross-dresser. And what about Pinocchio? An animated block of wood spends an entire movie trying to become a "real" boy – aided by a blue fairy and an asexual cricket. And what gender exactly was Ariel (a non-gender specific name, by the way) when that little mermaid had a fishy tail? Did she go through a gender change when she grew legs which (presumably) had something between them so she could be a "real" girl? And getting down to basics, can anyone prove that Mickey and Minnie Mouse are male and female?

Behind the humorous tone of the piece, there’s quite a thought-provoking deconstruction going on. Okay, so there’s an implied acceptance of Disney’s anthropomorphism of technology – but I’m keeping Coleridge’s phrase suspension of disbelief firmly in mind…

(Cross-posted from bird of paradox)

Comments From You

Renee // Posted 19 July 2008 at 2:03 am

You had me up until you brought up Ariel from the little mermaid. Even before her transformation there are few disney characters that are traditionally more femme than her. The tail is the only part of her anatomy that could possibly make it questionable. Consider the long flowing hair, the eyelashes, huge eyes, the desire to beautify she clearly identified as female. It was a nice a attempt to try and switch up this girl meets boy, and boys saves girl routine but it is classic gender play all the way through for the little mermaid. I would like through a shout out to Sebastian though…I still adore you even though you were stuck in a crappy movie.

Anne Onne // Posted 19 July 2008 at 7:37 pm

They CAN be assigned any gender, because they don’t have voices. But in all but voice, they are clearly meant to represent ‘male’ and ‘female’. Which depresses me, though I’m glad that at least Eve doesn’t have huge fake eyelashes, a pink bow and red stillettos on. What a low standard. Heh.

But in all seriousness, I can see her point, but maybe it’s just my cynicism shining through. For me, it’s not enough that they don’t appear definitively male and female beyond all doubt, when they use plenty of gender-defining characteristics (EVE is shiny, sleek, egg-shaped, graceful-looking, and called, well, Eve; Wall E is roughed up, more square, and called Wally.). Given that we know the audience are going to interpret these cues and assign the genders female and male respectively, how transgressive is it just because they’re

And Ariel’s a merMAID. I’d also like to point out that female fish don’t have obvious genitalia yet are still female, so the lack of an obvious vagina whilst having a fin does not make Ariel male, not when she has breasts, long hair, a female voice, big eyes, and falls in love with a man. This being a heteronormative disney film, I just don’t think you can argue she’s not really a she, just because she doesn’t have a visible vulva. That’s not forgetting that she’s canonically referred to as being a ‘daughter’ and a ‘girl’.

And as for Mickey and Minnie mouse? In the context of the time they were created in, they were male and female respectively, because their rather cliche presentations of ‘male’ and ‘female’ were pretty explicit coding for accepted gender norms of the time. That’s not to say that a mouse wearing a skirt HAS to be female, but that one written nearly a hundred years ago would have been, because it would never have crossed someone’s mind to draw a gender variant character deliberately.

I buy the idea that we can create our own interpretatons (I dabble in fandoms, where own interpretations are taken to a whole new level!), but we can’t discount the weight of context and what is implied, especially when the expectation is there that most people will interpret something a certain way.

I would like to see more films with unequivocally gay protagonists, with female leads and POC as more than the best friend. I don’t want to have to twist canon to infer it, I want it to be there, visible. That’s equality.

It’s a really, really interesting perspective (honest! Even though I disagree!), and we definitely need more analysis of pop culture and the messages therein.

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